The Merchantman and the Pearl

Matthew 13:45‑46  •  5 min. read  •  grade level: 5
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"The kingdom of heaven is like unto a merchantman, seeking goodly pearls: who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had, and bought it." Matt. 13:45, 4645Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto a merchant man, seeking goodly pearls: 46Who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had, and bought it. (Matthew 13:45‑46).
Some of us used to read this parable upside down. We thought the pearl of great price was the Lord Jesus, and the merchantman none other than the seeking sinner, who having found the priceless pearl, parted with all he had to make it his. Many, no doubt, still read it thus, or, rather misread it; for assuredly such is not its meaning. The indifferent sinner is very far indeed from seeking goodly pearls; and when awakened by the Holy Spirit of God to some concern about his soul, he learns sooner or later that Christ is not like a jewel put up for sale in the market square. The Savior is God's "unspeakable gilt," and salvation is without money and without price. Besides, what has the sinner to give in exchange for the pearl of great price, supposing Christ to be it? His righteousnesses are but as "filthy rags." Of what value then are they? And if his best things are thus described, what can be said of the rest?
If we turn the parable around the other way, we shall see how simple and beautiful is its meaning. The Lord Jesus is the Merchantman-the seeker of goodly pearls. How frequently is He spoken of as a Seeker! No sooner had Satan achieved his malignant triumph in the garden of Eden, and the fallen pair hidden themselves behind the trees, than we behold God fulfilling this gracious mission. "Adam,... Where art thou?" is a cry that reveals a seeking God; and in those "coats of skin" with which He afterward clad the guilty pair, we see the earliest emblems of a guilty sinner being clothed suitably for the paradise of God on high, in the midst of which blooms the tree of life (Rev. 2:77He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches; To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the tree of life, which is in the midst of the paradise of God. (Revelation 2:7)).
Who of us, too, does not remember those gracious words that justified the joys of God's salvation being shed abroad in the heart of one who was not only a publican, but chief among that odious class? "For the Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost." Luke 19:1010For the Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost. (Luke 19:10). Many a hard heart has been broken by the grace that shines in that simple saying.
"I am so happy now," said a poor woman as she grasped the hand of her visitor and drew him aside into her little parlor. She had been long in great distress about her soul, and often had the visitor sought in vain to comfort her. "Thank God!" said he; "but what makes you so happy?" "It was a text I heard last Sunday," she replied. "It was nothing the preacher said in his sermon; but in the midst of it he quoted a text which I am sure I must have heard thousands of times before, but I never before thought what it meant. He seemed just to be looking at me; and as his eye fell on me, he said, 'The Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost.' It was that word `seek' that went home to my heart. I thought I had been seeking for God for years, but here was a new idea to me; the truth that He had been seeking me. I looked up as the tears ran down my cheeks, and said, '0 my Lord, are you looking for me? What! looking for a poor wretched sinner like me?' As the thought laid hold upon my heart, I was filled with an unspeakable joy; and I felt as if I must shout out there and then and glorify the Good Shepherd whom I seemed to see looking everywhere, if only He might find a poor sinner like me."
The Good Shepherd! How in that office He shines as the unwearied Seeker! He leaves the ninety and nine in the wilderness, and goes after the one that is lost until He finds it. The wandering sheep seeks not the fold from which it strays. It lacks the sagacity which some other animals possess, and every step is likely to take it farther afield. So with the sinner. Therefore the Shepherd in painstaking love seeks His wandering ones. Why does He do this? It is because they are precious in His sight. Herein is a marvelous thing. We were worthless in ourselves, worse than worthless, for we were "foolish, disobedient, deceived, serving divers lusts and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful, and hating one another." Titus 3:33For we ourselves also were sometimes foolish, disobedient, deceived, serving divers lusts and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful, and hating one another. (Titus 3:3). Yet the Son of God has loved us and laid down His life for our sakes. And now from the glory of God, where He dwells, He seeks His lost ones until He finds them; and when found, He lays them on His shoulders rejoicing! (Luke 153And he spake this parable unto them, saying, (Luke 15:3)).
So then the Lord Jesus is the Merchantman seeking goodly pearls.
But the parable speaks of "one pearl of great price"- not of many, but of one. What is that pearl? It is the Church. Most precious is she to Christ. There is but one Church. It is composed of all believers on the face of the earth-all who are truly saved. It is strange, passing strange, that He should speak of her as the "one pearl of great price." But so He does, and a great price has He paid to make her His. "Christ also loved the church, and gave Himself for it." Eph. 5:2525Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it; (Ephesians 5:25). His cross and His sufferings attest the greatness of His love, and show the wondrous price paid for her redemption.
It is only as we understand the place we have in His heart, that He will acquire a larger place in ours. Love begets love. Nor is it humility to take a lower place than love assigns. We may marvel much that we should be so dear to Christ, so beautiful, and of such worth in His eyes, but let us never doubt it. Believing it we shall rejoice; and as we do so He will become more precious to us, yea, altogether lovely!